Unlawful land grabs in the Kraaifontein area of the Western Cape are threatening to put award-winning vegetable farmer Byron Booysen out of business.
Years of backbreaking work by the hydroponic farmer currently hangs in the balance due to unlawful land occupations, which have crept onto the Avondrust farm where he rents land.
Already more than 450 shacks have been erected as an overspill from the Wallacedene informal settlement onto private property. This has resulted in about 20 hectares of arable agricultural land being lost and deemed unfarmable.
Booysen and his landlords worry that the end is nowhere near in sight. He tells Food For Mzansi that he lives in fear of losing his business should matters not be resolved soon.
“My landlords are experiencing immense pressure. If they reach a point of ‘enough is enough’ and decide to sell, then my business and long-term sustainability plan is in jeopardy,” Booysen says.
Young farmer’s longevity threatened by trespassers
The farmer says their nightmare started after his landlords were forced to abandon farmable land adjacent to a neighbouring farm which was sold to government in 2004. A buffer zone of approximately 50 meters (for small farming activities) was left open to separate the residential area and the adjacent commercial farms.
The sold land was then turned into an extension of the Wallacedene informal settlement and an electric fence was erected to separate the farmland from the shanty town. However, over the years, this has also been vandalized and removed.
Booysen says this has led to continuous trespassing on their property and has been dangerously obstructive to the growth of his business. His farm is at high risk of theft and as a small-scale farmer, the likelihood of Booysen’s agribusiness surviving such a blow is extremely low.
“I’m a beneficiary of government funding for which I have a business plan in place to utilize the farm to its full potential. I can’t do that now because the land invasion is putting certain things under pressure and hindering my growth,” he says.
“As a small-scale farmer, I need every bit of production. But it’s difficult to grow my business when you are faced with people invading your land. I basically have to budget for theft now,” Booysen adds.
Land ‘nicking’ long predicted
The first illegal land grab happened in 2018 when 200 residents erected housing structures next to and on the Avondrust farm.
The owner’s wife, Anzette Borcherds, tells Food For Mzansi that she and her husband saw the trouble coming when the illegal structures started to appear on the buffer zone.
According to Borcherds they warned the City of Cape Town to act quickly and prevent the invasions on city property, but she says they failed to do so. As a result, the land “nicking” has now spilled over to their farm. The invaders first erected houses on city land, then also on the Borcherds family farmland.
‘Our beautiful farm has been turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of plastic and waste.’
Subsequently, the Borcherds had to pay for a Supreme Court interdict, also for the removal of the illegal structures by private contractors. When illegal invasions spill over onto private property, it becomes the duty of the private landowner to have the invaders removed.
The City of Cape Town did, however, come to the family’s aid to protect the private contractors during the removal process.
Cape Town anti land invasion unit has on several occasions tried to demolish the illegal structures on city property, but the structures are repeatedly rebuilt. During one of the many removal attempts, the illegal builders started rioting and launched an attack on the Avondrust farm.
‘Self entitled’ land invaders costing farm owner
Although problems started in 2018, things rapidly escalated in 2019 when a new surge of land grabs took place. About 400 structures were built on the farm in three days.
The family applied for an interdict from the Cape Town High Court and it was granted a day after the new structures were erected.
This time the Borcherds were billed R160 000 by an independent company to have the structures removed and an additional R500 000 for a security company to protect the premises during and after the removal operation.
Because business was under strain and the cost of clearing the illegal land invasion was high, friends and members of the farming community made donations to begin the immediate removal process.
Most of the structures were successfully removed, but on the same day the invaders started building again and another removal action had to take place. A neighbouring farm was vandalized in the process.
“The people are very self-entitled. They walk where they want. Some illegal occupants have built animal pens and there’s even animals grazing the fields,” Borcherds explains.
She adds that the area is a bathroom for hundreds of people because there are hardly any toilets. The only exceptions are a few which have been placed on the farm road by the city council.
There is also no running water and most of the illegal occupants throw their waste into the farmers’ irrigation dam.
“The need for housing is great in South Africa, but this is not the correct way of supplying it. Our beautiful farm has been turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of plastic and waste. People are freely dumping their rubbish bins and human waste onto our farmland,” Borcherds exclaims.
‘Help us save our farm’
The appalling display has impeded the farmers’ businesses.
Borcherds says, “Our clients are reluctant to travel the road to our farm. Sometimes stones are thrown at you or planks with spikes are thrown in the middle of the road. It’s not nice to have clients arrive to this mess.”
A new access road to their property had to be built to ensure that they can continue receiving inputs and delivering produce.
The Borcherds family say they are at wits’ end and exhausted by the three-year long ordeal. Despite notices being put up by the local sheriff to inform the occupiers that they are illegal, there has been no luck in getting the dwellers off the land.
Booysen says the invasions are creating an environment for criminal elements who see an opportunity to do criminal work.
“What upsets me the most is that the people we want to serve and help build a prosperous future with, have no background or context of the impact of illegal land invasion. People see you as a farmer and just see you as an enemy.
“All our young people of South Africa deserve to be protected in agriculture. The current situations discourage young, talented people from engaging and investing in farming,” Booysen says.
“The need for housing is great in South Africa, but this is not the correct way of supplying it.”
The landowners are overwhelmed with standard overhead costs and bills for water and electricity. This, while normal agricultural activities of planting and harvesting are hampered mainly by theft and vandalism. Not so long ago hundreds of agricultural sprayers also went missing and needed to be replaced immediately to save their crops.
Borcherd explains that the overspill of land invaders on their land is not only affecting them. “It also affects the people we create employment for. Their salaries have been jeopardized because if we’re not planting or harvesting, it means that there is no work for them,” she states.
A Facebook page titled, “Help us save our farm” has been created to rally support and inform the public around the implications of illegal land grabs on private property.